According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the average family washes around 400 loads of laundry a year. That’s up to 20kg of commercial laundry powder sifting through your clothes and sheets – its residue in close contact with your skin almost 24 hours a day.
And what about the various fabric softeners, pre-washes, stain removers and soakers we also use? Very few of us even know what’s in them, let alone stop to consider exactly what all those chemicals may be doing to our skin, our family’s health or the environment.
Want to get informed? Here are 5 of the most common chemical nasties in many laundry products and why you should avoid them. Tip: Laundry manufacturers are not legally required to list what’s in their products, so your best bet is to check labels for what’s not there (ie “Free from/ no…”).
1. Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS)
Sodium laurel sulphate – a foaming agent found in countless cosmetics, personal care and laundry products - is surrounded by so much hype, conjecture and mythology it takes a great deal of effort to separate fact from fairy tales. On one hand, some say it “causes cancer” – this is largely due to the possibility of contamination with 1,4 Dioxine, a chemical that is a by-product of the way SLS is manufactured. In studies, 1,4 Dioxine has resulted in laboratory rats developing cancer and the National Institute of Health (NIS) in the US states it is “reasonably expected to be a human carcinogen”.
The Australian Cancer Council’s official statement on the matter, following a review of available information, is that there is ‘no evidence’ that SLS is carcinogenic. However the Council goes on to say that SLS “has been shown to irritate the eyes and skin in human and animal studies”, a fact supported by thousands of studies currently available in the PubMed science library.
One study appearing in Exogenous Dermatology confirmed SLS to be a very “corrosive irritant”, capable of stripping the skin of its protective oils and moisture, with research subjects experiencing irritation that persisted for 3 weeks.
Authorities continue to assert that the levels of SLS in products like shampoo and toothpaste don’t warrant a health concern due to our limited exposure time.
But what about the accumulative effect of its residue on clothes or sheets next to the skin, daily? We just don’t know – we don’t add it to Bosisto’s laundry products for that reason.
Note: SLS ‘foams’ up your detergent but you don’t need it for clean clothes. We’ve been conditioned to think that suds equal cleanliness but that’s not the case - other ingredients in your laundry powder are far more important. So even if it’s not going to give you cancer, it’s definitely one to avoid.
Although not technically a chemical, fillers are nevertheless one of the laundry industry’s biggest dirty little secrets. They are cheap substances used to create bulk and make it appear like you’re getting more. Some powders can be up to 25% filler – shocking, isn’t it? They don’t clean your clothes or have any purpose other than tricking you into paying for nothing.
Before the laundry concentrate revolution several years ago, fillers were rife in laundry powders, and while their use has now reduced you will still find plenty in commercial powders (yes, even concentrates, and even ‘eco’ products).
So what’s the problem with fillers? Lots, actually. Fillers don’t dissolve in your wash, leaving small particles trapped in the fibres of your clothes and bedding which can cause skin irritation, and trigger allergies, asthma and eczema. Likewise, they can build up in your washing machine, causing corrosion and damage over time. They’re bad news if you use your wash water as grey water on your garden, too, as they create an oxygen-blocking ‘crust’ over the soil.
Bosisto’s Laundry Powder contains no fillers and is 100% soluble. Want to know if your laundry powder contains fillers? Click here for a simple, 1 minute test you can do at home.
Bosisto's vs. Big Brands... the difference is clear
Bosisto's vs. 'Eco' brands... still 100% soluble
3. Synthetic Fragrances
The laundry giants would have us believe we are cocooning ourselves in crisp mountain air or the scent of wildflowers each time we wear our freshly washed clothes. But in reality, we’re wrapping ourselves in a toxic blanket.
A single fragrance in a product can contain a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, some of which (for example, limonene, a citrus scent) react with ozone in ambient air to form dangerous secondary pollutants, including formaldehyde – a known respiratory system irritant and carcinogen. In fact, up to 95% of chemicals in fragrances are derived from petroleum – and many of them are the same chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Don’t seem so delicious now do they?
Yet companies continue to add synthetic fragrance to products. Why? Because we expect it and we associate those scents with pleasant experiences. The natural alternative – essential oils such as the eucalyptus oil in Bosisto’s laundry products – are much more expensive than their cheap counterfeit versions so are less commonly used.
Artificial fragrances are a strong irritant which can cause itchy, watery eyes, can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate allergies, eczema and dermatitis.
Pregnant women, children, those of reproductive age, asthmatics, those prone to allergies or with chemical sensitivities should be particularly careful to avoid fragranced products. Some articles even suggest that phthalates, which carry scent, have been associated with hormone disruption and male infertility. Don’t be seduced by the sweet smell of illusion.
4. High Sodium Content
If you care about the environment look out on laundry labels for the words “garden safe” or “septic system/ grey water friendly” – this applies to the entire Bosisto’s laundry range. Water with high sodium levels is toxic to plants and soils. But even if you don’t use recycled water on your garden, your laundry water is still making its way into our waterways so low-sodium products are a kinder choice.
5. Bleaches & dyes
Bleaches and dyes are another two ingredients Bosisto’s leave out, which add to the unnecessary toxic load. Be wary of any detergent sporting bright blue, pink or yellow tones – it’s not likely those have come from nature!
Bleach is a respiratory irritant that can hurt your lungs and irritate your eyes, and it’s not great for your fabrics either, causing deterioration and colour-fade. According to the EPA, chlorine bleach in the laundry also increases the potential for household fires. As the chemicals break down fabric fibres, the amount of lint increases, and may ignite in your dyer.
Finally... As you can tell, it pays to check labels & be wise with your washing… after all, the only possible side effect is chronic good health!
Click here to find your local stockist of Bosisto’s Laundry Products or to buy online today.
Sources & References:
Environmental Protection Agency US
Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database
"1,4-Dioxane," US Food and Drug Association, CFSAN/Office of Cosmetics and Colors, July 3, 2007
Ozone and Limonene in Indoor Air, Wainman et al, Environ Health Perspect. Dec 2000; 108(12): 1139–1145.
United States Department of Agriculture, Organic Certification Program
The Australian Cancer Council
Lightning Products – euca.com.au
Indoor Air Quality: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOC’s, Carol Potera, Environ Health Perspect. Jan 2011; 119(1):A16.